First Hydrogen-Fueled Vessel Receives USCG Approval to Enter Service

hydrogen powered ferry
Sea Change will begin a demonstration service in San Francisco after receiving its USCG certificates (SWITCH)

Published May 21, 2024 12:36 PM by The Maritime Executive


After nearly five years of development and several delays, the first hydrogen-powered commercial vessel in the United States has received U.S. Coast Guard approval to enter service. Developed by a startup called SWITCH Maritime, the vessel a 75-passenger catamaran ferry Sea Change was presented last Friday with its Certificate of Inspection by Captain Taylor Lam, USCG Sector San Francisco commander and Captain of the Port for Northern California.

With the COI, the vessel is now able to commence commercial operation for zero-emission public ferry service. Following a formal launch event in June, the Sea Change will be operated in a six-month pilot service by the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA). After the initial demonstration period, SWITCH will put the vessel into a more permanent ferry route.

“This COI represents the culmination of years of close collaboration with the US Coast Guard and a significant milestone for the maritime industry, demonstrating the viability of carbon-neutral vessels,” said Pace Ralli, CEO of SWITCH. “We are immensely grateful for the support from the US Coast Guard and all our partners along the path to completion. This is not the finish line, but just a starting point from which to build many more.”

Ralli highlights the rapid evolution of the technology. He said they are already able to provide similar operational capabilities and ranges to diesel-powered vessels. The hydrogen system also eliminates the need for shoreside charging infrastructure required by battery-only vessels.


Sea Change is the first hydrogen-powered vessel in the U.S. (SWITCH)


The Sea Change uses hydrogen fuel cells to power all-electric motors for transit distances up to 300 nautical miles and speeds up to 15 knots. Built and launched at All American Marine shipyard in Bellingham, Washington, in August 2021, the Sea Change is a 70-foot catamaran ferry designed by Incat Crowther. There have been significant hurdles and developing the technology and gaining approval. The vessel reached the San Francisco Bay Area just over a year ago with SWITCH working to train the crew and complete USCG certification.

The vessel features an integrated hydrogen power system from Zero Emission Industries, with 360kW of fuel cells from Cummins and 600kW of electric motor propulsion from BAE Systems. Its tanks from Hexagon Purus have a capacity for 242kg of hydrogen stored in a gaseous form on the top deck at a pressure of 250 bar.  

There are so far only a handful of hydrogen-powered vessels in the world although supports highlight the potential for the industry. Founded in 2018, SWITCH Maritime develops, finances, builds and leases zero-emission maritime vessels to existing operators in the U.S. and internationally. SWITCH has reported it is actively working on additional expansion designs for 150-, 300- and 450-passenger zero-emission ferries.